By Munsif Vengattil and Dhanya Skariachan
BENGALURU (Reuters) -India’s Reliance Industries Ltd on Monday appointed the three children of Chairman Mukesh Ambani as board directors at the oil-to-telecoms conglomerate, as the billionaire prepares to eventually hand over the reins.
Ambani, Asia’s richest person, has previously said his children Isha, Akash and Anant would have significant roles in the business and that Reliance was “in the process of effecting a momentous leadership transition”. Mukesh Ambani was re-appointed as chairman of the company for another five years in July.
Ambani, 66, said his three children will work as one single team and will collaborate with other directors “to provide leadership to the Reliance group as a whole and guide the growth of all our diverse businesses.”
With a market value of more than $200 billion, Ambani’s business empire spans telecoms, retail, oil and gas and new energy.
With Mukesh Ambani in his late 60s, “the time is probably right … If not now, when?,” said Arun Dasmahapatra, a partner at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles’ Mumbai office.
“This is also an attempt by Mukesh Ambani to ensure the next generation of Ambani siblings stay close to one another and do not have any discord.”
Mukesh’s father Dhirubhai Ambani, a well-known industrialist, died without a will, sparking a long-running and public feud for control of assets between Mukesh and his younger brother Anil.
Ambani has positioned experienced executives and long-time friends and family to steer his children through the transition, and they have taken larger roles at annual general meetings and led some company announcements.
Reliance also said Ambani’s wife Nita had stepped down from the board to focus more on strengthening Reliance’s charity arm.
Akash Ambani, who attended Brown University, was part of a team that brokered a $5.7 billion investment in 2020 by Meta Platforms (NASDAQ: META) in Jio Platforms, a Reliance unit. He is already the chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, the telecom arm of Reliance.
Akash’s twin sister Isha is driving the expansion of Reliance Retail into new categories and geographies, and is already a director on the boards of the retail unit, Reliance Retail Ventures, which houses the conglomerate’s bets in India’s brick-and-mortar and e-commerce industries.
The youngest of the siblings, Anant, is a director at Reliance’s new energy business, retail unit as well as Jio platforms and its energy, and oil and chemical units.
The appointments are to be finalised after approval from shareholders.
Speaking at the annual general meeting with shareholders, Mukesh Ambani said the retail unit had doubled its valuation to $100 billion after a recent $1 billion investment from the Qatar Investment Authority in exchange for a 1% stake, adding that it was seeing interest from several top global and financial investors.
The company will launch Jio AirFiber, a wireless indoor device for offices and homes that provides broadband-like speeds, on Sept. 19. The device, which uses the Jio 5G telecom network for connectivity, will help Reliance target more than 200 million homes in the next three years.
Reliance shares closed down 1% on Monday and were among the top losers in the benchmark Nifty 50 index. Analysts attributed the decline to the absence of any new details at the shareholder meeting on the IPOs of telecom and retail arms of the company.
Reliance in 2019 had said the units will be listed publicly in five years. Investors were expecting an update on the timeline after Ambani last year said more details would be shared at this year’s meeting.
Ambani also announced plans to manufacture wind energy equipment in India under Reliance’s new energy business, and a plan to set up a battery giga factory by 2026.